US had little choice but to denounce latest incident
Published 13/01/2012 | 05:00
Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, wasted no time in denouncing the behaviour shown in the latest embarrassing video of American forces in Afghanistan. He had little choice, as this incident has occurred at a singularly sensitive moment.
By announcing that its combat role in Afghanistan will end in late 2014, the US has implicitly conceded that it must seek a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. America and its allies are not bidding for total victory; instead their relatively modest aim is to bring the Taliban into talks and reach an agreement that will allow an honourable exit.
Covert contacts with Taliban commanders are believed to have been happening for some time. But this quiet diplomatic effort has become semi-public with the announcement that the Taliban will open an office in the Qatari capital, Doha.
This highly significant step is designed to give the extremists an "address" and recognised representatives, with whom America and its allies can deal. Now that this sensitive process has finally begun the US wants to deprive the Taliban of any excuse to walk away.
Its first response to the video suggested that the Taliban will not exploit the incident in this way.
Superficially, the Taliban has little reason to negotiate -- it knows that America will withdraw most of its troops by 2014.
The reality is more complex. Hundreds of Taliban prisoners are being held in Afghanistan. Regular raids by US special forces have decimated the upper and middle ranks of the insurgents.
The risk is that America may end up negotiating with adversaries who lack the power to implement an agreement, even if one could be reached. (© Daily Telegraph, London)